Compassion is a word often used to describe how to approach relationships between family and friends -- but should it have a place in your work relationships, too?

While some industries favor a more rigid corporate structure, it's been argued that showing compassion in the workplace is increases employee retention, decreases stress, and even improves health. 

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science documents compassion as an individual, group, organizational, and cultural force of nature that positively changes lives and transforms companies.

One prolific study found that organizations characterized by higher levels of compassion (and other virtuous behaviors, like forgiveness) increased performance, innovation, customer retention, profitability, and quality. And, yes, these same firms also had considerably less employee turnover.

Compassionate leadership in practice.

But how do you practice compassion in a way that makes business sense and doesn't imply holding hands and singing Kumbaya?

One advocate of incorporating compassion into her brand and leadership style is Beth Gerstein, co-CEO of Brilliant Earth, the leader in ethically sourced jewelry.

From celebrating small wins to her company's mission of donating 5 percent of all net profits to communities impacted by the jewelry industry, Beth shared with me some valuable tips for cultivating a more compassionate corporate culture.

Show appreciation.

It's important to celebrate life's victories, both big and small. As a leader, Beth finds that regularly recognizing her team's successes make them feel appreciated for their hard work and more motivated to tackle the next challenge. For example, at company socials, they write and publicly post kudos to recognize individual contributions and strengths. 

Make a positive impact.

Since its inception, Brilliant Earth has been focused on the mission of creating beautiful jewelry while cultivating a more transparent, sustainable, and compassionate jewelry industry. By infusing this sense of ethics into every aspect of their brand and into their employees' mindset, people feel a sense of pride and ownership about the products they sell and the positive impact they're having through their work. Brilliant Earth's giving back initiatives also extend to local opportunities, with employees frequently engaging in philanthropic activities such as food and toy drives, beach cleanups, and volunteering at a local food bank or shelter.    

Lead by example.

CEOs need to be intentional about both what they say and what they do--it sets the tone for the organization. Beth shares that even day-to-day things such as "addressing customer inquiries with urgency and care, walking to work instead of driving, and being responsive to feedback and new ideas for improvement" shows your team that you are invested in your work while encouraging them to follow suit.

Respond with authenticity.

"Make it clear that you are open to hearing not just the good news and successes, but also the challenges and failures," Beth shared. Inevitably, there will be bumps in the road, so when employees raise issues and concerns, "respond with empathy and authenticity, and ask probing questions to help them identify and consider potential solutions rather than dictating an answer." In doing so, it will demonstrate that you are taking the time to address their concerns and inspiring them to stretch their skills.

Equip your team to take care of the business.

"A significant amount of my time as a co-CEO is focused on building and nurturing my team--recruiting, retaining, and working closely with HR" to make sure the employees are set up for success, says Beth. Brilliant Earth's success is not due to Beth's own personal achievements, but through the daily empowerment of team members to carry out the strategy and vision for the brand. "Recognizing this creates a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the unique skills that each team member brings to our organization," she shared.

Published on: Aug 23, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.